Vail Valley: Holidays are bittersweet for caregivers |

Vail Valley: Holidays are bittersweet for caregivers

Lorene Gallagher
Special to the Vail Daily

VAIL, Colorado –It was to become the last holiday our family would all be together.

My brother was able to get a rare holiday off and would be home for Thanksgiving. My father had dementia and rarely spoke, and although he still knew my younger sister, he no longer recognized me or my older sister. He had also recently stopped recognizing my mother.

A good day had become defined not by how difficult or exhausting it was, but by whether her sweetheart of 57 years knew her.

My mother had prepared his favorites. She felt no one else could make the turkey, dressing, homemade dinner rolls and pumpkin pie just the way he liked. My two sisters and I helped in the small ways she would let us. The good china and table cloths were brought out. The table was set with flowers and arranged so that he would be surrounded by his children.

When our father recognized my brother, it seemed that the day would be all that our mother had hoped. My brother escorted dad to the table and tried to seat him, but he just stood there, unable or unwilling to sit down. We all took turns coaxing, cajoling, pleading and trying to cue him by pressing the seat against his knees – nothing worked. By this time, our mother was in tears and we decided to let him stand until he was ready.

It was then that he spoke – he thanked God for having his whole family there with him that day. Then he sat down.

It has become our most blessed Thanksgiving ever.

Holidays can be very stressful for caregivers. Caring for your loved one and trying to keep up holiday traditions can take its toll on the caregiver and the family. Your loved one may also feel a sense of loss during the holidays.

Here are some tips to help your celebrations be joyful and blessed:

Adjust your expectations:

• No one should expect you to maintain every holiday tradition

• Give yourself permission to do only what you can manage

• Choose traditions that are most important to you

• Host a small family dinner instead of a big holiday party

• Serve a take-out holiday meal or have a potluck dinner where others bring a dish

Involve your loved one – there are many activities you may be able to do together:

• Wrap gifts

• Bake favorite holiday recipes – maybe the person can stir batter or decorate cookies.

• Set the table and avoid centerpieces with candles and artificial fruits and berries that could be mistaken for edible snacks

• Read cards you receive together and recall stories about the sender

• Look through photo albums or scrapbooks and reminisce about people in the pictures and past events

• Watch a favorite holiday movie

• Sing favorite songs

• Read special passages from the bible

You can celebrate even when your loved one is in a care facility:

• Decorate your loved ones room together

• Join in any facility-planned holiday activities

• Bring favorite holiday foods to share

• Sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in

• Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud

The Eagle County Caregiver Support Group understands caregivers and the challenges they face and wants to help. The group meets Dec. 7 at the Avon Library, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The group’s effort is to reach all Eagle County caregivers and their supporters. For more information about the Caregiver Support Group, Call Pat Nolan at 970-471-9245.

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